All you need to know about Irregular Periods
While your menstrual cycle may work like clockwork most of the time, there are occasions where it might skip a beat. Your period may appear unexpectedly. It may not appear at all. You may even have an increase or decrease in menstrual flow. All of these are considered irregularities. You may be wondering what causes these irregularities. There are many reasons why you may be experiencing irregular periods.
7 Reasons why your period might be irregular
- MENARCHE & MENOPAUSE
Irregular periods may occur when a girl starts menstruating (menarche) and just before she stops (menopause). During these two periods, length, of the cycle, duration of bleeding, and flow quantity. These irregularities can continue for several months.
Pregnancy is one of the main reasons for a missed period. If you suspect that this might be the case, take a home pregnancy test., followed by a blood test. Miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies can cause your period to be late. It can also be accompanied by abnormal bleeding. Breastfeeding also delays the return of your periods.
Dramatic bodyweight fluctuations may also affect your cycles.
Vigorous exercise may reduce body fat to the level where regular hormonal function is affected. If you just started a new exercise routine or have intensified your regime, you may notice some irregularity or missed periods.
If you are having a stressful time at home, school, or work, your hormone levels can be affected. Your periods may be late, irregular or there may be a lighter flow than usual.
- BIRTH CONTROL
While some birth controls like The Pill, can have a positive effect on the regularity of your cycle, others can be disruptive. If you are being adversely affected, speak to your doctor about switching to an alternative form of birth control.
- Other medical conditions
If your hormonal levels are off-kilter, you may experience irregular periods, diminished menstrual flow, and missed periods. You may have heard of the hormonal condition that causes irregular periods called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It is often accompanied by a host of other symptoms like infertility, weight gain, abnormal hair growth, male pattern balding, and acne. This condition is prevalent in approximately 15% of all reproductive-age women.
Other conditions relating to your thyroid may contribute to menstrual irregularities.
Frequently asked questions (FAQS)
- HOW CAN I KNOW IF MY PERIOD IS IRREGULAR OR NOT?
Any change in the flow, timing, or cycle pattern is considered an irregularity and is worth looking into. You should pay special attention if your period has been irregular from your very first period or your menarche. Also, if you are over 35 years and your cycle is erratic you should start logging your periods. Especially if you are experiencing additional symptoms.
- WHAT IS CONSIDERED AN IRREGULAR PERIOD?
A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days. Of course, there is wiggle room. It could be 7 days more or 7 days less. It starts on the first day of your period and ending on the first day of your next period. Each month it should maintain the same pattern give or take a day. The general rule is that menstrual bleeding is considered irregular when it happens more frequently than every 21 days or your period lasts longer than 8 days. A menstrual cycle that is longer than 38 days is considered irregular. Once your period is late, does not appear, or shows up unexpectedly, you probably have an irregular cycle.
- WHAT TYPE OF TESTS ARE USUALLY DONE FOR IRREGULAR PERIODS?
Depending on your physical examinations and the information that you provide about your medical history, your doctor will run some diagnostic tests and this usually includes blood and radiological investigations.
- IS HAVING A RECENT PAP SMEAR NECESSARY?
A pap smear is a simple test that involves your doctor taking a sample of the cells from your cervix. It is then tested for abnormalities. A pap smear is usually critical in diagnosing cervical cancer which often causes bleeding that is not consistent with a normal period. Cervical cancer is preventable with early detection.
So once you are sexually active, it is prudent to have an up to date pap smear. You should also speak to your doctor about HPV vaccination that protects against the Human papillomavirus.
Cervical cancer can be caused by HPV infection.
It is also recommended that girls should get the vaccine before they become sexually active.
- HOW DO I KNOW IF MY ABNORMAL BLEEDING IS CANCER-RELATED?
If you are concerned about cancer specifically, you should have a pap smear done to test for abnormal cervical cells. Other cancers that may cause irregular periods or missed periods are ovarian and uterine cancer. If your doctor suspects cancer, she may recommend further tests to aid a diagnosis.
- WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE FOR IRREGULAR PERIODS?
The treatment for an irregular period will, of course, depend on what is causing it. If it is hormonal, medication to correct the imbalance will be prescribed.
If you are stressed, do discuss with your doctor to explore further stress management strategies.
- CAN IRREGULAR PERIODS BE NORMAL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES?
Irregular periods can be normal for young girls who have just started menstruating. If may take some time for their menstrual cycle to regularize. The other stage of a woman’s life that may be marked by irregular periods is perimenopause, which is the time before menopause sets in. As you approach menopause, your period may become irregular. There may be months where your period may disappear altogether. Finally, your period will disappear altogether.
- DOES A MISSED PERIOD MEAN THAT I AM DEFINITELY PREGNANT?
No, a missed period does not mean that you are definitely pregnant. As we have discussed, there are many reasons why you could have missed your period. The medical term for a woman who has missed her period three months in succession or has reached the age of 15 without menstruating is called amenorrhea.
- WHAT SHOULD BE MY FIRST COURSE OF ACTION IF I MISS MY PERIOD?
If you are sexually active and suspect that you could be pregnant, you should take a pregnancy test. However, you should wait one week after the missed period to take a pregnancy test to ensure accurate results. You should have detectable HCG levels after this period.
As you can tell an irregular period is a pretty common occurrence and there are many reasons for it. It should not be ignored in the event that it is being precipitated for a serious condition. Your reproductive health is important and any irregularity should be checked out.
- Jacobsen, B. K., Knutsen, S. F., Oda, K., & Fraser, G. E. (2012). Obesity at age 20 and the risk of miscarriages, irregular periods and reported problems of becoming pregnant: the Adventist Health Study-2. European journal of epidemiology, 27(12), 923–931. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-012-9749-8
- Esen, İ., Oğuz, B., & Serin, H. M. (2016). Menstrual Characteristics of Pubertal Girls: A Questionnaire-Based Study in Turkey. Journal of clinical research in pediatric endocrinology, 8(2), 192–196. https://doi.org/10.4274/jcrpe.2026
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